Katherine Beattie talks growing up with a disability, working behind the scenes of a major television show and getting girls to love action sports.
Katherine Beattie is no stranger to Sports ‘N Spokes. In 2015, Beattie became the first woman to land a backflip in wheelchair motocross (WCMX). Now, Beattie shares a side of her story that we’ve never seen.
Growing up, Beattie’s disability was never something that was openly talked about. She knew she had cerebral palsy and she understood her diagnosis, but she wasn’t comfortable until much later in her life.
“I don’t think anyone ever intended to hide my disability, but since it wasn’t something we openly talked about as a family I wasn’t comfortable as a disabled person until I went to college,” Beattie says.
Beattie recalls being slower than other kids and getting picked last for sports teams. By the age of 13, her body started to slow down. She started to realize all the activities she was unable to participate in, which led her to be on the sidelines.
“I became more of an observer,” she says. “As much as I hated having to sit on the sidelines at the time, I’m a professional writer now and I love to make jokes, two things that require a very keen sense of observation, so I suppose it all worked out.”
Her love of action sports started at a very young age. When Beattie was about 7 years old, she found an old black and white picture book at her school library about skim boarding, and she instantly fell in love.
“That was it for me,” she says. “Despite the fact that, to this day, I have never skim boarded in my life. It just seemed so fun, and I was instantly drawn to anything with wheels or a board.
Her love of action sports is what led her to be the first woman to land a backflip. Successfully landing the backflip for the first time was a rush for her. She had many failed attempts, but it was all worth it in the end. Beattie is thankful to help push the progression of women’s WCMX. She is part of a group in California called “SoCal WCMX” that meets up at a skate park multiple times a month to ride together and she frequently coaches people on landing the backflip. Beattie is a strong advocate for action sports and hopes to get more people involved in WCMX.
“My main thing is just getting out there to skate parks and riding,” she says. “Other skaters and bikers there see me and get so stoked on what I’m doing that they tell their friends and it just kind of spreads naturally. Getting to do television interviews and talk to publications really helps spread my message that wheelchairs are fun, and disability is normal to a wider audience.”
When she’s not spreading awareness about WCMX, she is working in the film industry as a writer for NCIS: New Orleans. Beattie has been with the television show since their pilot episode in 2014. She was an assistant for the first three seasons and became a staff writer in season four. Her very first writing credit was in season two, episode eight, titled “Confluence.” Since then, Beattie has had eight writing credits for the show.
“I’ve been to sets before but sitting behind the monitors on that episode and seeing it happen on a grand scale like they do on CBS was amazing,” Beattie says. “TV is such a collaborative medium. Everyone from grips to artists to actors and directors is an integral part of the process, but then it hits you that it all starts with the words. As writers, we spend a lot of time alone with those words inside our heads, so to see them on screen is really mind blowing.”
Landing a job in the competitive film industry was a major accomplishment for Beattie. She worked hard for years and worked many years for free.
“When I joined the Writers Guild of America (WGA) they shared a statistic that more people get drafted into Major League Baseball every year than join the Writers Guild,” she says. “Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m one of the lucky few, despite how hard I worked to get here.”
Being a disabled woman, Beattie had to work very hard and really showcase her writing talent to get her foot in the door.
“When the deck is stacked against you, you have to do anything possible to stand out,” Beattie says. “In my case, that means working as hard as I possibly can. Being the first girl to do a backflip in a wheelchair has really helped me in that endeavor as well. That’s a great icebreaker, but no one in the writers’ room is going to care if I can backflip my wheelchair if I’m not working hard to be the best writer I can be.”
While Beattie is an advocate for action sports, she is also an advocate for women in the film industry. Her advice to a young girl with dreams of working in the industry is “don’t be afraid to go for it. Be prepared to work hard and learn how to handle rejection but know that if you do decide to work in TV or film, you’ll find a great group of supportive women cheering you on.”
Beattie’s life has been very exciting and surprising for her. She has accomplished many of her goals and if she could talk to her teenage self she would say, “This might surprise you, but you’re going to end up being an action sports athlete after all!”
“Honestly, as a teenager who loved skateboarding and never thought I’d ever be able to do it again, I couldn’t have imagined the day that I’d be sitting here talking to a super cool magazine writer about backflipping wheelchairs. It’s insane,” she says.